I come from a huge, Irish family. I’ve got 11 aunts and uncles, not including their spouses, and each of them has from three to eight kids of their own. My grandparents used to tell us about when they were oppressed for being immigrants and couldn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day publicly due to the strong xenophobia that surrounded Irish people when they were young. So, considering how large a family we have and how much we were taught to appreciate it, St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal for us.
Every year, we go to my tiny hometown, where the kids all get together and wreak havoc while every adult with access to alcohol gets so smashed that the older children have to corral the little ones before they start their own version of the purge. Everyone between ages 15 and 20 has to stay completely sober so we can make sure everyone else gets a safe drive home. I’ve had to get my fair share of aunts and grandparents back to their houses in the early hours of the morning, and by now I’m used to avoiding beer and taking care of them, even if I can now legally drink.
The year I’ll never forget, though, was in 2012, the St. Patrick’s Day immediately after I lost both of my grandparents on my father’s side. It really tore us apart, but we promised one another to have a great holiday, if only to honor their memory.
That year’s celebration was like most of them, with a few extra drunken tears thrown in, but all in all, it was pretty fun. Once the partying was over, it was my job to take most of my aunts and uncles with fewer children home, so I didn’t have to make more than one trip in the family van to drop them off. Last one on my route was Kenny, my dad’s older brother who lived in my grandparent’s empty home while his kids were staying with his ex-wife. I can’t imagine how hard it was to stay in that house after losing his parents, but he never complained.
A few things for context: this place is a huge farmhouse twelve miles from the nearest town, surrounded by fields and grazing area for the cattle my grandparents bred and raised. All the cows had been sold since grandma and grandpa died and the whole place felt unbelievably empty as soon as I pulled into the driveway.
Anyways, I got my uncle up to his old room, made sure he was okay, and started eating poptarts in the kitchen, which he promised to give me for being such a good sport and driving people home at four in the morning. I hadn’t been in the house since my grandpa was diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of a baseball last November. I was right at the base of his skull, just to the left. He’d died from it a few weeks later. My grandpa was a tough, bald guy who like cigarettes just a bit too much, and I’d really looked up to him, so you can see why I really missed the old place. It smelled like smoke and the rain, and it was nice to see all the memories I had of my grandparents again.
As I finished up the last poptart and put on my jacket, I could see a figure sitting in the living room, looking at the TV. The chair whoever it was sat in was between myself and the television, and since they were looking at the TV, I couldn’t see them very well. All I knew was that there was some stranger in my grandparent’s house, and I was the only one awake and sober enough to make sure they didn’t do anything. Not taking my eyes off this guy for a second, I grabbed my pocket knife and the baseball bat my grandparents had kept in their cupboard full of collectables, which I’d bought for them since it was signed by the 1997 Chicago Cubs. I don’t know what I was planning on doing, really. Was I actually just gonna bash this guy’s face in and call the cops? I was a short, chubby sixteen-year-old with the muscle and dexterity of a baked potato, what did I really expect?
Armed, and practically pissing myself, I walked as silently as possible toward the person sitting completely motionless in my grandpa’s old La-z-boy. As I got closer, my eyes adjusted to the dark, and I could see him more clearly with just the moonlight. From the back, he was pretty bald, had quite a few liver spots, and had asymmetric ears like all the people on my dad’s side of the family. I didn’t really notice any of these things about him, though, until I was able to see the gaping, baseball-sized hole in the base of his skull, just to the left. Once that caught my eye, I saw everything about him, and, aside from the hole, he looked exactly like my grandfather.
As soon as I had put the pieces together, the TV turned on, blasting static at a volume higher than what I thought the old set could handle. The sudden bright light from the television and loud noise made me cover my ears and blink furiously. The TV shut itself back off in what felt like less than a second, and when I opened my eyes again, the person sitting in my grandpa’s chair had vanished.
I sprinted to my uncle’s room, got him up, and ran with him, as fast as he would let me, back to the van. I pulled out of the driveway and gunned it back to my parent’s house like a bat out of Hell. As I drove off, I swear I saw the TV back on again and someone, still inside the house, staring at me.